The following post is by Katie Peige, Herban Lifestyle’s Sustainability Associate.
You are sitting in a park enjoying a lovely picnic. You are taking in the peaceful moment: the birds are chirping, children are playing on the nearby swings, a butterfly flitters by, and then you look up and your stomach lurches. It’s the lurch you feel when you see a plastic bag stuck amongst the highest branches of the maple you are sitting under. You start thinking about the birds that could get tangled in the plastic, the turtle that thinks he is about to chow down on a jelly fish, and your mind starts flashing images you have seen of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and all you have your mind set on is how long it would take for that bag to eventually break down and where can you find the nearest ladder.
Plastic bag pollution is a serious problem the world over. It is estimated that 1 million plastic bags are used every minute of every day worldwide. Plastics in the ocean is a terrifying situation as today there are more pieces of ocean plastic than plankton (you know the little guys who are responsible for our every other breath). Of the 100 million tons of plastic that are manufactured each year, ten percent finds its way to the ocean, and only 20 percent by means of ships and platforms. That means that 80 percent of the plastic in the ocean comes from the land. With all of this plastic floating in the ocean that does not go away but rather break up into smaller bits (46,000 pieces per every square mile according to the United Nations Environment Program), it is no wonder that a million sea birds and 100,000 sea mammals and turtles die each year from plastic bags and other plastic pollution.
Some quick facts about plastic bags and the environment
So what can you do and what should be done? The first thing you should do is bring your own bag to the store. It is estimated that one reusable bag can replace 1,000 plastic bags in the reusable bag’s lifetime. Keep a small foldable bag with you in your purse or on a keychain, so if you are out and about and decide to do some impromptu shopping, you are prepared. ChicoBags makes some really cute ones that fold up super small. Next, keep a stack of bags in the trunk of your car so you have them with you when you head to the grocery store or any other store where you would need more than one bag. For the non-car owners keeping a stack by the door is a helpful reminder as well. For the ladies, you can get a little drastic and stuff them in your bra, however, I am not exactly sure what the most lady like method of removing the bags would be when you actually need them. Once you have the BYOB habit down, start bugging your friends to remind them as well, you have a vast, powerful network, use it to help the planet out (and while you are at it, get your friends to start a campaign to ban plastic bags in your city!).
If you have a ton of plastic bags under your sink, try to reuse them as trash liners or packaging material. And if you have a desire to get creative, check out these crafts that all use plastic bags! You can also take them to most grocery stores and Staples to recycle them.
Just remember, for every bag you refuse to take you are taking a direct action to help stop the plastic pollution problem and subsequently saving resources, animal lives, and keeping those plastic bags out of our trees and waterways!
Editor’s Note: For more information on the issue of plastic bags, presented in a fun, entertaining way, we highly recommend Bag It!, the movie.
A globe made of plastic bags, as seen at the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival